Normally college signing day is a pretty boring affair. Which is why it’s so ripe for schools to look to gimmick signings to generate a little PR, a little buzz. This year, BYU made headlines by signing a giant Tongan to their squad (see below for the story). This guy has virtually no history in football, and the move was made after a very old tape of him playing BASKETBALL surfaced. That’s clearly not what you rely on to assemble a football squad, so I can’t imagine that this guy will see some PT unless he’s a very quick study, but the cost of a college education is a small price to pay to get people talking about your program around signing day. There aren’t too many gimmick signings in college football, or many other sports, but that’s what makes them so effective. They’re rarely stupid. Except for #7. The ones that qualify for #7 are stupid.
Sports are as much entertainment as they are competition, so it’s naive to think that PR and money isn’t as big a part of the equation as points and defense, but these entries are (mostly) so brazen that the players might as well be holding miniature pennants that say, “GIMMICK” on them.
That would actually be pretty funny.
With Jordan, you could pick the Wizards OR the Birmingham Barons, the minor-league team that the Chicago White Sox had sign Michael Jordan. Either one was pretty gimmicky and made more sense from a PR or marketing perspective than it did for on-court reasons. He was a terrible baseball player, and while he was an ok basketball player at the end of his career, it’s likely he got a little more PT than one would think he deserved, which adversely affected the Wizards. A gimmick gone wrong.
9. Michael Jordan
I remember hearing a rumor that Gillette had signed David Beckham to a $25MM/year (or something) endorsement deal, and they were shipping Beckham to the US to get their spokesman in the world’s most lucrative market. It sounds completely ridiculous, but the OTHER rumor I heard, that David Beckham wanted to be with his friends Tom Cruise and Will Smith in LA, sounded equally goofy, though a little more understandable. Then you’ve got the interests of the MLS, whch never really came together as Beckham spent most of his time in the States off the pitch either injured or pursuing other interests. It was an experiment that was destined to fail.
8. David Beckham
If retiring while wearing the jersey of an old team is so important, then why is done with such a stupid mechanism as the one-day contract? If Emmitt Smith had his best years as a Cowboy, and then plays as a Cardinal (poorly) at the end of his career, what’s the point of signing him to a symbolic novelty contract to technically end his career in Dallas? Does it really change his career at all? He’s not even playing another game. Hell, he’s not even sitting on the sidelines. You don’t have to retire in a jersey to have it associated with your career.
7. Every Player Who Signs a One-Day Contract To Retire
Master P is a very good basketball player, and, more famously, the founder of No Limit Records. Born Percy Miller, he was an excellent guard that could shoot the long ball. However, being a very good basketball player doesn’t mean you’re anywhere near good enough to play in the NBA. So when he was signed (twice!) to Charlotte in 1998 and Toronto in 1999, the whole thing stunk of a marketing gimmick. And it was. Master P was a huge name, and while he wasn’t good enough to play in the NBA, he was an addition that would get press to cover teams that hadn’t been thriving in the promotion department. While he played in the CBA, he never so much as set a foot on an NBA court for a game.
6. Master P
We’ll see this a few times. Giant guy, notable, looks like he should be playing in the NFL, but not really equipped to do so. Brock Lesnar of WWE fame made the practice squad of the Minnesota Vikings before a motorcycle accident kept him from going much further in 2004. Lesnar was a very talented player, but it’s hard to tell if he was actually good enough to play or just a big name. He was cut in the preseason upon his return from injury, and that’s where his football playing days ended.
5. Brock Lesnar
Ok, so Hafthor Bjornsson is a pretty popular guy these days, as he broke a damn 1000 year-old Viking strength record, and presumably will be returning to the approaching next season of Game of Thrones. But it may come as a surprise that the Colts were pretty close to signing him as an offensive lineman. Or defensive. They hadn’t landed on a position. They just thought they wanted the 6’9”, 419-pound monster on the field. Of course, it surely wouldn’t have ended well, so they balked at the last moment, but it’s close enough that we’re gonna count it.
4. The Mountain
Just because it’s a gimmick signing doesn’t mean it doesn’t make sense. Pele was likely among the world’s most famous athletes from his days in Brazil, and American’s were/are rather unsophisticated when it comes to soccer. As we saw with Beckham, the rationale is that we’ll get fired up about a big name late in their career. Maybe, but it doesn’t do much to further the acceptance of soccer. Pele left retirement after two years in 1976 to lace up for the New York Cosmos. Taking the gimmick factor to an extreme, Pele ended his career playing in a game between the Cosmos and his old Brazilian club, Santos. He played the first half for Cosmos, then changed jerseys and played the second half for Santos. Ugh. That’s the worst.
This future BYU player was signed to their football team after a scout saw a two-year old video of the dude playing pickup basketball. Of course, the dude in question is 6’7”, 410, but still…we’ve learned many times that you can’t compensate for shortcomings with size. Experience, intuition, coordination, talent…these things are important. Bigger men than Mr. Langi exist, but go undrafted. No one really understands what they plan to do with this guy, or if they see him as a viable prospect, but let’s hope that their scouting department has a better approach than “giant guy who played basketball once.”
2. Motekiai Langi
Now here’s a gimmick! The St. Louis Browns signed the diminutive Mr. Gaedel thinking that the man’s tiny strike zone would result in a guaranteed walk. And they were right. Wearing number “1/8,” on August 19, 1951, he drew four balls and was ushered to first. The Browns then tossed in a pinch runner, and that Eddie Gaedel saga was over as quickly as it began. He never played again. The nice thing about this instance is that there was no question as to the team’s motives. They wanted to get a guy on base. Which is actually less gimmicky than a lot of the other signings on this list.